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In Mississippi's hot-car deaths, parents should be treated equally

Bill Crawford
Bill Crawford

Authorities treat parents differently for hot-car deaths.

The black father whose 8-month-old daughter died after being left for hours in a hot car in Grenada was charged with second-degree murder and thrown in jail.

The white mother whose 2-year-old daughter died after being left for hours in a hot car in Gluckstadt was not charged and kept her freedom.

After charges of racism erupted in the black community, Grenada authorities released the father on his own recognizance. However, despite early reports, the second-degree murder charge was not reduced to homicide based on culpable negligence.

Authorities in Gluckstadt said the case would be turned over to the district attorney to determine if any charges should be filed against the mother. Earlier, the sheriff had told The Clarion-Ledger, it was not a crime but a "tragic accident."

There appeared to be no difference between the two cases. The father was supposed to drop his daughter off with her grandmother but left her in the car instead. The mother was supposed to drop her daughter off at day care but left her in the car instead.

Why might one be considered murder but the other accidental?

Two years ago, NBC News looked into the inconsistency of charges in such charges. The beginning of the report is eerily similar.

"Two days before a Georgia dad allegedly left his 22-month-old son in an SUV for seven sweltering hours, a father in Florida was accused of forgetting his 9-month-old daughter in the backseat of his pickup." Georgia police charged the father with murder. Florida investigators were unsure if they would bring any charges when the story was reported.

"There isn't any rhyme or reason to why it varies from state to state," Amber Rollins, a director with KidsandCars. Org, told NBC. "Even case by case, you never know what's going to happen."

The news report said about 60 percent of those involved in such cases get arrested and charged, and a majority of those charged get convicted of child abuse, child neglect, or negligent homicide. About 30 percent never get charged.

Parents claiming they simply forgot about their toddlers is a common defense. "That car seat looks the same whether the baby is in there or not," Rollins said.

The report also noted that cars can quickly become death traps for children during the summer. Research shows temperatures inside a car can rise to 138 degrees in 90 minutes.

To combat such accidents, Georgia and other states created public awareness campaigns.

As for the two pending Mississippi cases, neither looked to be murder but resulted from negligence by the parents. The legal question should be was their negligence criminal culpable negligence -- "that degree of negligence or carelessness which is denominated as gross negligence and which constitutes such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily careful and prudent man under same circumstances as to furnish evidence of indifference to consequences."

Both parents should be treated equally under the law.

Contact BIll Crawford, a Mississippi syndicated columnist at crawfolk@gmail.com

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